BOARD OF MOVING PICTURE CENSORS
To His Honor, the Mayor of Portland
I have the privilege of presenting herewith, my report as secretary of the Board of Moving Picture Censors for the fiscal year ending November 30, 1921.
In the beginning of the year changes were made in the ordinance, creating a new board and reducing the number of members from seven to three, with the following appointed:
Mrs. Alexander Thompson, Mr. G.A. Metzger, Mr. Ralph McAfee.
Mrs. Thompson was elected chairman. It became necessary to revise the list of viewers and each member of the board proposed 25 names. From this list of volunteer workers the secretary selects the critics who pass on each film before it is shown to the public. It is in this method of viewing the films that we find the weakest point in the operation of the ordinance. There are 68 viewers and from this list the secretary selects for each exchange, on certain days. It has frequently been necessary to call 20 to 30 different people before one can be found to take the assignment. This is not as it should be, in order that effective service be given. The secretary makes every effort possible to learn of the character of the film in advance of the showing - through the magazines of the trade and other sources, and an effort is made to secure for each film, viewers who have shown the character judgment required, but it is not always possible to fit the viewer to the film.
It is not easy to maintain a definite standard upon which to base objections to certain scenes, as the board cannot compel the service of any particular viewer, and not all viewers are of one mind as to just how much latitude should be allowed. While the ordinance states, in more or less definite terms, just what shall or shall not be shown, it is difficult to secure a standard of reaction from a constantly changing personnel amoung the viewers. While we believe that the City of Portland is under deep obligations to the women who freely give their services to the work, the board is in no position to demand rigid conformance to the assignments and there is bound to be a varying standard as a result.
It is largely due to this fact that many criticisms are voiced against the board for too liberal judgment. It does not seem to be generally understood that the board passes only on such films as are appealed, either by the viewers themselves, or by the exchanges. Your board can see no relief from such criticisms until some method is adopted which will secure a stablility, wich it is impossible to command at present. Even with these criticisms, it must be admitted, that the standard of films shown in Portland is higher than in those cities having no censorship.
Your board believes that the public is being given just such character of films as it deserves. When a picture of suggestive subject is being exhibited, the box office receipts testify as to its popularity. On the other hand, films of merit - of subjects both historical and instructive - elaborately and expensively staged - with actors of world-wide reputation in the leading parts - are shown to empty seats.
The fault lies with the public, which asks to be merely amused, and neither the board or the exhibitors should be criticised if, occasionally, an offensive scene slips by the viewers. Perhaps if the critics could see some of the deleted portions of the films there would be less criticism and more co-operation when really good films are at the theatres.
One constant source of complaint is the poster - glaring in its misrepresentation of scenes which are not in the films it is supposed to advertise. Under instructions from the board the secretary has ordered many removed.
There have been several violations of the ordinance but these have been adjusted without prosecution, except in one instance - on August 16, 1921 - Sam Fleishman, manager of the Rex Theatre, was arrested for exhibiting a picture "The Great Shadow," without a license. He was found guilty and fined $5.00.
Acting under a motion adopted by the board, the secretary receives lists of programs prepared monthly for each theatre. The downtown theatres have been faithful and cordial in their co-operation in this requirement, but the suburban theatres have been extremely careless.
Owing to the long distances, and the large number of theatres operating, it is very difficult for the secretary to cover the outlying districts adequately, as much time is consumed going and coming on street cars. If it were possible to assign an auto for such use the service would be much more efficient. This is an important matter - supervising of the outlying districts must be constant, as films which are not licensed are shown, and the secretary knows nothing of it, until the film has been changed. More children attend these theatres than in the downtown district, and we therefore recommend to your consideration, the above request.
The secretary has been called upon, many times during the past year, to be present at various organizations and tell of the effort the City of Portland is making to keep the motion pictures clean and fit. We believe that to the board members, and to the viewers, who give so freely of there time and energy without any recompense, much praise is due.
We may not close this report without expressing to those who are in the profession our appreciation of their co-operation. It is not always an easy matter to agree to withdraw a film from exhibition, which promises to be a "money getter" - but in most cases, there has been little protest against the decisions of the board. If we could insure for the exhibitor a measure of recompense, on the part of the public, when he does show a fine film, the problem would be solved.
Your secretary suggests that the board be authorized to make public mention of exceptional films, in an endeavor to establish itself as a board of review, as well as a board of censorship.
Herewith we submit the statistical report:
Number of subjects viewed ..... 1,922
Number of reels viewed ..... 6,294
Number of condemnations ..... 13
Number of reels condemned ..... 84
Number of eliminations ..... 41
Number of permits to exhibit issued ..... 1,665
Number of board meetings held ..... 20
Number of people serving on board ..... 3
Number of people serving as viewers ..... 68
Viewers examined 6,294,000 lineal feet of film.
Personal services ..... $1,972.50
Operation and maintenance ..... 216.00
ELEANOR T. COLWELL,
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